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Back-to-School Month Feature, Spencer Ecker on Being an Adult-Learner

Back-to-School Month Feature, Spencer Ecker on Being an Adult-Learner

Spencer Ecker, a recent intern for Prince William County Public Schools, talks about returning to school and finding his path forward through technology. He will be a double NOVA grad having just graduated with an A.A.S. in I.T. cloud computing this past May; and he will continue toward his A.A.S. in I.T. cybersecurity, which he expects to achieve by December 2022.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:

I moved around a lot of as a kid—attending eight different schools from K-12. In 2015, I moved to Northern Virginia from Philadelphia where I previously majored in Graphic Design while attending Philadelphia University [now Jefferson since it merged with Thomas Jefferson University in 2017]. I soon realized while attending school that graphic design was more of a passion than a professional aspiration, not to mention the incredibly high cost of tuition which was ultimately the determining factor in leaving that degree unfinished.

Truth be told, I never knew what I wanted to do in life, even as a child. When adults would go around and ask the question, I never had an answer. I knew I didn’t want to be a firefighter; I didn’t want to be an astronaut because airplanes made my ears pop so bad and being Batman was out of the question because I was born in rural Pennsylvania. I seemed to sort of stumble through life grasping at different jobs to see if I liked what they offered. Although there is social stigma attached, I kept landing on jobs deemed ‘blue collar’--jobs that had me use my hands to create, fix or destroy. I liked the hands-on nature of it all, but those jobs being what they are, they rapidly break down and damage your body. They were unsustainable. Then COVID struck, and I was thrust into the ether of unemployment.

What brought you to NOVA?

My father relocated to this area, specifically Fairfax County, and mentioned numerous times the density of tech companies here as well as the seemingly perpetual construction. After applying to all manner of entry-level office jobs, I ended up finding a position at a landscaping company in Loudoun County and made Integrated Pest Management (IPM) my profession for the next four years as working for a ‘typical’ company in the D.C. Metro area was impossible due to my lack of a college degree.

I would drive past the NOVA Loudoun campus twice a day in my company box truck. Over the years, I would look up tuition rates for residents of Virginia and marvel at the low cost. After being laid off from my position in June 2020, I weighed my options, together with my partner whom I met during my tenure as a landscape professional and decided that NOVA was the best option for me to re-skill and re-tool for my future career.

Due to COVID-19, multitudes of virtual classes were being offered – along with the affordable tuition rates offered to in-state students made enrolling at NOVA the best option. As a first-generation college student, the virtual offerings NOVA makes available to all of its students is something I have always been grateful for.

What are you studying or what do you plan to study at NOVA?

Cloud Computing and Cybersecurity. I recently graduated from the A.A.S. I.T. cloud computing program this past May and will be continuing for a final fall semester to graduate from the A.A.S. I.T. cybersecurity program being offered at NOVA. Initially, I was doing ‘cloud’ only but decided to add-on the cybersecurity degree around the time of the Colonial Pipeline attack.

I feel there is no better time to get involved in this industry, and maybe no better area than Northern Virginia with the density of tech companies, government agencies and data centers. You can’t throw a rock in this area without hitting the side of a Fortune 500 company, and bounces off a vehicle with ‘Diplomat’ plates and then lands in the parking lot of a data center!

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA; i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met:

My experience at NOVA thus far has been nothing short of magnificent. As an adult learner, I’ve been able to utilize virtual learning, which is incredible. Not having to commute to numerous campuses (and deal with the legendary traffic the area is known for) has allowed me to have back-to-back classes that would normally be held at campuses that are located 45 minutes away from each other. This has truly allowed me to maximize my study time and keep my efforts focused. Time is the new money.

The professors I have encountered are impressive to say the least. Professor Lawrence, Tierney Pitzer (advisor), Professor Miller, Professor Dusek, Professor McNally (the best hair at NOVA) and of course the infinitely knowledgeable Professor Konadu whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person at Commonwealth Cyber Fusion 2022. All of them I consider to be gems that really underscore the value students get here at NVCC.

As a virtual student and adult learner, I have not really interacted much with my fellow students outside of course meeting times and the occasional, albeit brief, Discord conversation. That changed this past summer when I was selected to participate as an intern for the first year of a partnership between NOVA and Prince William County Public Schools. I worked for five weeks with another student from NVCC, Esra, and in doing so became friends. A fellow adult learner, we shared similar experiences about our time at NVCC as virtual students. The internship was an excellent opportunity that I am grateful for.

Spencer Ecker in his work environment.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?

I would tell them to make sure they utilize all the services the school offers. As a first-generation college student, adult learner and virtual student, I never felt ‘left out’ by the school. NOVA is always offering some kind of support, resource or program that is designed to help you, the student, be successful! Support such as the food pantries located on all six campuses, resources like readily available virtual advising sessions or mock interviews, resume reviews from career services and programs like the Career and Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI) and the Career Up Institute.

I have utilized all of these services during my time at the school and urge fellow students to do the same. It’s all there for you, you just need to go get it.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?

I would like to see myself securing a position with Prince William County Schools as a Technical Support Specialist (TSSPEC), the position I interned for during summer ’22. I found the position fulfilling as it is very much hands-on. One day, after attaining some industry certifications, I hope to leverage my experience into becoming an SOC analyst with a nearby company

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls nearly 80,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.eduor call 703.323.3000.